Drum patterns refer to the rhythms executed on a drum kit, drum machines, and other percussion instruments. Drum patterns are produced by a series of strong and weak beats arranged in various combinations. Beats are often organized into meters, sometimes called time signatures, such as 4/4, 3/4, or 6/8. In the case of 4/4, the musician would repeatedly count 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4.
Meters are often used as a way to organize drum patterns and the beats within are attacked in a variety of ways. In 4/4 time, beats 1 and 3 are strong beats and are typically accented using the bass drum or crash cymbal. The weak beats, 2 and 4, are emphasized by the snare drum, other drums or percussion instruments. In 3/4 time, beat 1 is strong and beats 2 and 3 are weak. Some meters are associated with dance rhythms such as the waltz in 3/4 or the blues shuffle in 4/4. Beat one is often called downbeat while other beats are called upbeats. The difference being the type of accent and choice of percussion chosen to execute each beat. In addition, cymbals are often used to add to the character of strong and weak beats, as in, for example, the use of the crash cymbal on beat 1 or 3.
Beats could be described as ‘pulses moving in time.’ The most common beat is often the quarter note which is represented by the number 4 when referring to 3/4, for example. The top number refers to the number of beats, such as 1-2-3, 1-2-3. In slower tempos the eighth note is given the beat and labeled with the number 8. To clarify, the meter 6/8 has six beats (1-2-3-4-5-6) and has a typically a slower tempo. 6/8 is most often performed with a strong beat on beat 1 and then a week beat on beat 4. Meanwhile, beats 2-3 and 5-6 play unaccented beats on the hi-hat or ride cymbal.
When musicians want to further break down a beat they do so by saying “and.” The drummer may play the hi-hat on every beat, including the “and” (1+ 2+ 3+), while hitting the bass on beat one followed by the snare on beats 2 and 3. Musicians can further break down a beat by saying “1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a.” This often happens during drum solos where the drummer plays a series of fast rolls on the tom-toms. For example, 1+ 2+ 3e-and-a 4-e-and-a.
Drum patterns are not always confined to strict repetitions and simple formulas. Musicians often play complex patterns that included free flowing rhythms. Often two instruments will play drum patterns which are accented against each other. This is called syncopation and be heard in any style but is quickly identified in reggae, Latin and jazz.